Key themes emerge at National Plant Show

Risk reduction and range diversification on the agenda for growers setting out business plans at HTA National Plant Show.

HTA National Plant Show: growers’ future business plans uncovered - image: HW
HTA National Plant Show: growers’ future business plans uncovered - image: HW

Reducing risk and diversifying plant range were two big messages to come from last week's HTA National Plant Show (25-26 June).

Roundstone revealed that it has bought New Place Nurseries, while it emerged Baginton Nurseries has told customers it will no longer grow speculatively, instead preferring to produce bedding to contract only.

Owner Will Lamb said: "It's a positive move after a cumulation of recent years. We have a new business model that will provide us with an ongoing positive future for the nursery rather than anything else that might have happened.

He added: "We can't carry on relying on the weather. You need it to sell our product and because we grow speculatively it leaves us open to problem years. We're inviting garden centres to order on a contractual basis, but it has to be watertight.

"A lot of our business is with local authorities and subcontractors who have to plant at certain times of the year and that's what we'll focus on. That market is secure and not going to turn around and say: 'No, we can't take that.'

"It's a great shame we won't be providing quality product to the garden centre trade from August onwards, but we do invite garden centres to make contracts."

Lamb said Baginton, based in Warwickshire, will cut production by 50 per cent, adding that there will be staff cuts. "We can't carry on as we are. It is a risky business."

Chichester-based Roundstone supplies B&Q with bedding but has diversified by buying hardy plant grower New Forest Garden Plants in 2011 and now New Place Nurseries, which grows trees and specimen shrubs. Roundstone will add £2.5m to its £20m turnover with the addition of New Place. The move follows fellow giant Butters taking over Verde Horticulture last month.

New Place sales director Steven Lee said: "We approached them looking at the best way to go forward long term. With their investment we hope to expand existing products and there may be synergies where we can help with their production as well.

"We'll carry on trading with our customers independently and it's business as usual with them. They're spreading the risk. Everyone knows who their biggest customer is and they plan to keep growing while other nurseries are looking to cut back. We're a profitable business and this will take us to the next level. There aren't that many other massive nurseries that are looking to expand like Roundstone."

Kernock Park Plants business development director Mark Taylor said he was at the show speaking to growers who could produce Proven Winner-branded 12cm plants to launch the range as a consumer brand in the UK.

But he added that many growers are understandably in "conservative" mood at present and not keen to take risks on products without definite orders. He said trials at garden centres will continue and he hopes to secure a grower-retailer such as Cowells or Coolings to help produce the range, which will sell in late May-June.

Farplants is looking to diversify its product offering with a culinary herb planted container range. Business development manager Michael O'Connor said the added-value ranges "give us a wider portfolio". The company also has a new wreaths range but the aged terracotta and basket herbs ranges could be expanded into autumn viola and winter cyclamen products.

O'Connor added: "The last few years have made us rethink the way we do things. We don't want to be the same as everyone else."

See Peter Seabrook column of 5 July.

Wong's advice 'Stop trying to be cool'

Speaking at the HTA National Plant Show, Grow Your Own Drugs star James Wong said garden makeover shows such as Ground Force treated plants like "outdoor soft furnishings" and "doilies" and made gardening look like a "low-skill career".

Wong, who has been asked to present a yet-to-be-filmed, unnamed BBC gardening show, added: "There's a crisis that's facing our industry. The new generation is not coming into gardening - customers or staff.

"It riles me they don't tell you how to get younger people interested. I've done 100 talks in two years and 65 in the last nine months, and met a lot of young people who are obsessed with gardening and growing. But they didn't find what the garden industry offers very exciting."

Promoting his Suttons Homegrown Revolution range, Wong said those trying to popularise gardening should "quit trying to make horticulture cool". He added that at the RHS Chelsea Flower Show "thousands of plant geeks pull off horticultural miracles, but the top story in the media is about gnomes. If your marketing people don't find plants cool, get new marketing people."

Gardening is obsessed by "how to" explanations, he said, but fails to talk about the "why" like food television does when emphasising heritage, fun, fresh ingredients and exploring the world through your hobby.

He called on the garden industry to use social media to tap into 20-something "hipsters" who "consider growing your own a subversive act" against supermarket shopping.

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